Tipping is a topic that appears on forums for travelers of all types. Who should you tip and under what circumstances? What is considered exceptional service? How much should you tip and when? These are all valid queries. When it comes to cruise travel, there are some very defined and specific tipping practices worth keeping in mind. Follow our advice for tipping onboard and you'll never feel flat-footed on your cruise ship.
1. Understand your cruise line's tipping policy.
These days, nearly all mainstream cruise lines add a daily per passenger gratuity fee between $12 and $20. Travelers in regular cabins may cough up one amount, while those in fancier suites often pay a higher rate. Either way, these are set fees that are automatically added to your tab. Keep in mind that tips make up a large portion of the remuneration for crew members, including cabin stewards (housekeepers) and dining room waitstaff. That being said, resist the urge to ask the purser to expunge (or lower) this fee from your account, though it is possible to do so on most cruise ships. Of course, if there are service issues, report them to management and act accordingly, but understand that these gratuities are an important part of the staff's overall pay and should be honored.
If you experience service that exceeds your expectations (or feel that the tipping guidelines set by your cruise line are too low), you can also add to the automatically charged gratuity amount. Just go to the guest relations desk to make the upward adjustment, or hand over some extra cash to the specific crew member. If you want to tip the old-fashioned way -- handing out cash to each server or attendant you come in contact with -- opt out of the automated tipping program, but be sure to bring plenty of cash. Just remember that it will be tough to keep track of everyone you want to tip on larger ships. It's often easier to take part in the automatic tipping program.
If you're sailing on a luxury line, tips are either included in the fare or are not "expected or required." Again, nothing is stopping you from slipping your butler, housekeeper, waiter, or bartender a few extra dollars to show your gratitude for the excellent service. Any extra tips are at your discretion. If you're looking for a "no tipping" environment, book a British or Australian line. Neither culture embraces North America's tipping culture.
2. Know which crew members don't receive an automatic tip.
This point relates to our first tip. Read your cruise line's tipping policy carefully. On some ships, those automatically charged gratuities only cover certain employees, like cabin stewards and dining room waiters. In most cases, you'll pay between 15 and 18 percent for your bar bill and spa treatments -- on top of the automatic gratuity fee. In other words, the bartenders, masseuse in the spa, and hair stylist in the salon don't share in the spoils of those automatic daily gratuities.
3. Add a few dollars to that room service order.
Some cruise lines now charge a service fee for delivering all room service orders or just those during overnight hours. (That may be in addition to a fee for certain menu items.) The cruise line snags that service fee, so it's good form to give the delivery person a dollar or two that he or she can pocket.
4. Say thank you in a way that counts.
If a crew member goes out of his or her way to ensure that you have an awesome cruise, say "thanks" and do it in a meaningful way. In addition to personally extending your gratitude, grab a comment card from the guest relations desk and write a note about the exemplary service you experienced. These notes that mention crew members by name really count with the cruise line and sometimes even contribute to bonuses and other rewards programs. So, take a minute and write a thank you note before you disembark.
5. Make a deposit to the crew fund.
If your gratuities are prepaid but you'd like to offer an extra "thank you" to the ship's staff, head to the guest relations desk and ask to donate to the crew fund. This fund is used for the express enjoyment of the crew. It may go toward additional comfy furniture in the crew lounge or a special party when the crew needs a bit of a morale boost (especially near the holidays when they are far from their families). It's a terrific way to give back to every ship employee who made your voyage special -- even those working behind the scenes.
6. Don't stress about tipping.
Above all, don't stress about tipping. Book a non-tipping cruise or a luxury voyage where it's all included. Or, just go with the flow of the mainstream cruise lines' automatic gratuity systems. Then, if a specific crew member goes out of his or her way to make your vacation special, acknowledge it in one of the ways we've suggested above. It's that easy. Bon voyage!
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